The number of undergraduates majoring in computer science and statistics has nearly doubled in the past four years, increasing by around 94%. The growth of students interest in these fields sends a clear signal - technical skills are now widely considered by students to be the most valuable for employability and society.
There is also evidence that employers are taking technical skills very seriously. The rapid growth of corporate training companies focussed on technical skills, such as Pluralsight, goes some way to demonstrating this.
As the cost of robots decreases and the performance of artificial intelligence improves, jobs will become more automated. Traditional skills like teamwork, communication and critical thinking will be more important than ever.
Some economists predict that the best paid jobs will combine these business and communication skills with new tech skills people are trying to learn (and employers are trying to teach).
Employers and individuals can prepare for this shift by recognising that technical and soft skills are linked, requiring both to be developed in parallel.
Companies need people who can understand and work with new technologies – whether that’s machine learning, the blockchain, augmented reality or any other technology on the horizon. In order for projects to be successful, companies need employees to work together.
Technical work doesn’t usually happen in a silo – code needs to be reviewed, suppliers need to test components, projects need planning, features need to be discussed and ideas need to be pitched to management.
Engineering training programs and degrees rarely teach these soft skills, however employees value them highly. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers ranked “ability to work in a team” and “communication” ahead of problem-solving and analytical skills.
Soft skills are in high demand in the workforce in general, not just in technical roles. According to the 2017 paper on the importance of social skills in the labour market, jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percent as a share of the U.S. labour force.
However, the paper also notes that math-intensive but less social jobs shrank by 3.3 percent over the same period. The paper goes on to state that “Employment and wage growth was particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both math skill and social skill”.
Most in-demand soft skills (from LinkedIn research):
In the papers conclusion, it reasons that because computers are very poor at simulating human interaction, social skills are still important. Therefore, individuals should still look to improve their social and soft skills through activities such as volunteering to lead a team or even by working on an open source project with other people.
Employers can provide training or mentorship in business skills such as management, leadership, oral communication, negotiation, teamwork and more.
Studies have consistently shown that employers value soft skills. However soft skills, by their very nature, are hard to define and measure. It can be difficult for employees to quantify these skills on their resume or in a conversation, whereas with many technical skills, you can measure improved efficiency or speed by X amount.
Employers who target more specific soft skills can actually measure them in the hiring process, using tools like non-cognitive inventories, lists of behaviours or core competencies, and simulations. Systematically evaluating soft skills, instead of assuming they’ll come through naturally in an interview, gives these employers an advantage in the search for well-rounded talent.
Individuals need to learn how to ‘sell’ their soft skills to companies. You can start by updating your CV or resume with your strongest soft skills or ones that link to the job you are applying for. These might be oral communication skills, ability to work in a team or problem solving skills.
When adding these skills, try and use precise language and keywords as many resumes and LinkedIn profiles are scanned by software.
Also think about how can highlight your soft skills in an interview. For example, if you’re asked to talk about a successful project you worked on, take the opportunity to describe how you communicated the timeline or worked with several different teams to achieve results.
How to highlight your soft skills:
Building both your technical and soft skills is difficult to manage and will take time. These skills constantly need to be improved as you encounter different situations throughout your career.
On the technical side, the most in-demand cognitive skills will continue to evolve quickly. In its 2016 The Future of Jobs report, the World Economic Forum predicted that more than a third of the core skill sets that will be most highly valued in 2020 are not yet considered crucial today.
Soft skills are also a moving target, and employers can and should help employees keep up. Economists Joseph Fuller and Matthew Sigelman write that although soft skills are prominent in job postings, “few employers do anything to help employees develop these skills.” Deming’s research also suggests that employers could strengthen their business by continuing to train employees on important soft skills.
How individuals can improve their soft skills:
As individuals and employers begin to understand the skills gap within the workplace, they need to consider both soft skills and technical skills. These skills are an equally important part of a successful business and should be improved together.